Bong Joon-ho Exclusive Interview – TOKYO!

     March 18, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Just like everyone that saw it, I’m a huge fan of director Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host”. If you still haven’t seen this fantastic Korean monster movie, seriously, go buy a copy. It’s a brilliant movie and one that’s, of course, being remade here in America.

While I could go on and on about “The Host”, that’s not why we’re all here.

Opening this Friday, in limited release, is the movie “Tokyo!”. It’s a collaboration between three great directors – Michel Gondry, Bong Joon-ho and Leos Carax – where they each made a short film that takes place in the city of Tokyo. Of course each part has a unique style and definitely worth your time to see.

Anyway, to help promote the film, I recently did an email interview with director Bong Joon-ho. We covered all the usual things like how he got involved in the project, what was it like to film in Tokyo, what’s up with the sequel to “The Host” and the American remake. But the highlight for me was when he talked about his upcoming project “Transperceneige”.

Since I didn’t know anything about it, it was very cool to learn that he’s amking a sci-fi film!

When I asked him about it he said, “Transperceneige was originally a French sci-fi novel. It’s an entertaining story about the dystopia vision regarding the future of humanity and human nature. Once “Mother” is done, I will be writing the script for it. I would like the film to be finished by 2011 or 2012.”

He goes on to say, “Transperceneige will be a multi-language, international co-production but ultimately a Korean film.”

As a fan of Bong Joon-ho’s, I seriously cannot wait to see what he has in store for us…

And if you’d like more info on “Tokyo!”, here’s a link to the trailer and detailed synopsis’ for all three films.

Question: How long ago were you first approached to work on TOKYO! and how was it pitched to you. Was it always going to be the three of you directing?

In 2006 when I was finishing up on THE HOST, I was approached by comme des cinema to do the project. The allure and familiarity I felt towards the city of Tokyo plus my desire to create an “omnibus” all drew me to say yes pretty quickly. At that time directors weren’t all selected. After several changes, near the end of 2006, the three directors were attached to this project.

Question: With the success of THE HOST, did you feel any pressure to make another movie in the same genre, or did you specifically set out to make something completely different?

I am a fan of the monster and horror genre but that’s not my style as a director. I don’t get attached to a genre or use one as a starting point for a project. It’s always about a certain impulse I feel towards a person or a story that starts a project for me and whatever that is decides the genre. For me, the genre is not the goal but a result. The unexpected success of THE HOST can be mentally burdening sometimes but in its aftermath, my work has become more free and risk-taking. This is what I am striving for.

Question: Your segment in TOKYO! is called “Shaking Tokyo”. Where did this idea come from and did you have a few ideas for your segment and this was the one you ultimately decided on or was it always just this one?

This idea came to me while I was asking myself what story to tell with Tokyo in the center, what does Tokyo mean to me, etc. I had an image of the people of Tokyo as oddly repressed, defensively lonely…I think I had a desire to wake them up, shake up and liberate such people. That’s where the title, “Shaking Tokyo” came from and how the motif of the earthquake also came about.

Question: How closely did you work with Leos Carax and Michel Gondry on the different ideas of the film? Was each part treated like a completely separate entity during production or was it like an artist’s commune?

Totally separate work. Shooting schedule was also different .. didn’t have a chance to meet.. The production company never imposed a unifying idea that each of the three films had to have. Of course Tokyo had to be the background for the three films. So at the Cannes premier I had an odd feeling of having it be your own film’s premier but also these two other directors’ as well. The three of us saw each other’s work for the first time there.

Question: A casting question. What made you decide on Teruyuki Kagawa and Yu Aoi. And I’ve heard from some director’s that when casting, sometimes within 10 seconds of meeting someone they know if they are right for the part. Has that ever happened with you on any of your films or do you need to see many people to decide?

I already had Teruyuki Kagawa and Yu Aoi in mind when I was writing the script. In my heart Kagawa was already hikkimori. In 2006 when I was at Cannes for THE HOST, I saw Teruyuki Kagawa in the film SWAY and was enamored by him. Since then, I had my eyes set on him. He was the only one who could play the shy yet prideful hikkimori. And who can blast hikkimori’s conviction and pride instantly and draw him out of his house but Yu Aoi? She is currently the sweetheart of Japan. It was a miracle that such busy actors, including Takenaka Naoto were able to come together and make this film in such a short time.

Question: Where exactly did you end up shooting the movie and were there any challenges that you didn’t expect or obstacles you had to overcome?

The crew shot happily in the neighborhood of Kugayama in Tokyo. Tokyo is a very difficult city to shoot on location but the crew was meticulous and passionate so everything went very well. But there were few locations that were very difficult to shoot in so we shot a few parts in the outskirts of Tokyo.

Question: Currently you are directing MOTHER and I’ve heard a few different plot summaries. What exactly is the film about and was it about this story that made you want to tell it? Also, when do you think it might get released here in the United States?

I thought of the storyline for MOTHER since 2004, before THE HOST came to theaters. Preproduction began after working in Tokyo in summer 2007. Now we’ve finished shooting and are well in postproduction stage. Of course it’s a crime genre. But ultimately it’s a story about a strange mother and son. I wanted to express the explosive madness of a mother trying to save her wrongly accused son.

Question: You are listed on IMDB as being attached to “Transperceneige”. What is this film about and do you think you’ll make it?

TRANSPERCENEIGE was originally a French sci-fi novel. It’s an entertaining story about the dystopia vision regarding the future of humanity and human nature. Once MOTHER is done, I will be writing the script for it. I would like the film to be finished by 2011 or 2012.

Question: What other projects are you thinking about doing? And if Hollywood called…would you consider making a movie here in America?

After THE HOST, I did get a lot of offers and scripts for projects. No matter where I am working, I cannot make a film without 100% creative control and final cut. If there is such a guarantee, I can work anywhere. As I know that Hollywood does not work that way I don’t have any solid plans to work there at this time. TRANSPERCENEIGE will be a multi-language, international co-production but ultimately a Korean film.

Question: I know production is underway on a sequel to your film The Host. Are you involved at all? Did they ask for your blessing? What’s your take on them going ahead with this film?

In Korea they are currently preparing to make THE HOST 2. I have passed all the rights for the project to the production company and am not involved with it. I hope it does well and creates a good film series. The American remake of the film is being created by Universal with Gore Verbinski as the producer. I believe there are a director and writer attached as well. I hope they come out with a good remake but I’m really not involved at all as I have no interest in remakes or sequels. I have too many new stories to tell.

Question: My final question. Around the world superhero movies seem to be the most popular genre. Why do you think they’re so popular and would you ever consider making a comic book inspired movie? Do you have a favorite superhero movie?

The superhero is a really popular figure in the West. In Asia or Korea, the young viewers are amused by the figure but it is not really so sensational. My most anticipated superhero movie is THE WATCHMEN. I’m a fan of Alan Moore. The only comic book I own is FROM HELL that he wrote. It was often a source of inspiration for my MEMORIES OF A KILLER script.

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